If the Carolina Hurricanes could pick only 1 game to win out of the 5 on the current home stretch, Sunday would be it. A win would leave the Canes fans with something positive and it would also be small help to improving the first round pick that the Canes get from LA for next summer’s draft.
The bits and bites of what the Canes need to do are very much the same. The team needs to find a way to finish. And I think more significantly at this point, a player or small group of players needs to step up, put the team on his/their back(s), make clutch plays and will the way to a win.
Put more simply, when you are struggling like the Canes are right now, it is not about Xs and Os. It is about someone rising up to push through the difficulty and get a win.
What I’m watching for the Sunday matinee includes:
1) Continuation and contagiousness from Brad Malone
After sitting out of the lineup, he played desperate in the right way and was a bright spot in Friday’s loss. In only 10 minutes of ice time, he had 7 hits, bloodied a Leaf with a hit and just generally played angry and hungry. He is worth watching. If I was Bill Peters, I would put the fourth line on the ice to start the game, tell them to get after it and spend most of the shift barking at the rest of the team to follow.
2) What Bill Peters does with the blue line
Ryan Murphy will be out again. I would be surprised to see Michal Jordan draw into the lineup. So best guess is that we see the same 6 as Friday but possibly with some different pairings.
3) Who stands out
Per #1, I think the time is now for players to rise up and play desperate, hungry and maybe even a little bit angry. I do not want to have to hunt through shifts to see if Eric Staal is going to the front of the net. I do not want to have to hunt through shifts to see if Elias Lindholm is engaging physically. I do not want to have to hunt through shifts looking for glimmers of hope. I want them to jump out at me and be obvious after 4 straight losses at home.
4) Attempt to find offensive push from the blue line
A general theme over the past week has been talk about the blue line contributing more offensively. Bill Peters has talked about it in multiple interviews. It was a theme in a recent interview with Noah Hanifin. And talk about Jaccob Slavin’s call up had a tone of ‘can create offense’ to it too. Friday saw an attempt to make it happen when the defensemen fired shots at will, but it was mostly to no avail because of the team’s inability to pair it with traffic to the net. The bigger thing for me continues to be abandoning the deliberate movement of the puck from the defensive zone into the neutral zone. The Canes need to start pushing pace and attacking. I fear there will be some growing pains with this change, but it is the strength of the young players and the team needs to get on with trying to figure out how to use it at the NHL level.
Greatness for this team ultimately comes not from skating offensive defensemen learning to play a safe and sound defensive game but rather from them playing to their strengths and attacking with speed, pace and numbers.
Puck drops at about 1:07pm at PNC Arena.